Time to be

I had a dream last night that I was in a new relationship with a woman. She was tall and dark-haired with intelligent eyes and raw sensuality. I found her very attractive, but she seemed familiar to me also as if she was an amalgam I’ve known and been drawn to before or those I’ve imagined.

Despite her sensuality, there was something reserved about her, much to my frustration. She was the cerebral type, deeply engaged with the community and passionate about the affairs of state and society that come to dominate our health and wellbeing. In so many ways, we were a good pairing. She had interests in the same things I did. We could talk intelligently across a range of subjects, and, for the most part, our beliefs were aligned.

I was frustrated because, though I was sympathetic, she took these passions and interests too far, leaving too little for the earthly pleasures that mean so much when you’re with someone you like.

It seemed to me that the difference between us is that I could switch off, whereas she never did. There was a time and place for matters of the mind. As for the issues and controversies that dog our times, it’s fine to be passionate, but there’s also a time to take a break from it.

Here was this woman, alluring and attractive, a worthy, warm-hearted character, yet she never allowed herself to relax when I, as her partner, wanted to relax with her, wanted to discover her in the quiet times far away from the noise and clamour of normal life. I wanted to be with her, and only her, and yearned for the intimacy of body and mind that seemed denied to me.

I appeal to her in the dream, urging her to let go and be present. Don’t think – be! I tell her. Open to me, I tell her, let yourself feel, let it flow and happen. I murmur to her, asking if isn’t this something she wants? I tell her how I feel about her, how she warms my heart just thinking of her, how I yearn to be inside with her, to share and be as if one mind. Connect with me, I tell her, forget everything else, and with a glint in my eye, tell her how much she turns me on…

Curious to think what this dream might mean. There are elements familiar to my life and times – thought-addled, with too many causes and issues to be passionate about. Yet, I am someone who can switch off and indulge in the sensual – if only there was something in my life now to indulge in. That’s another element. My desire is no less than it has ever been, but there is no woman in my life, nor even the hint of one.

I’ve come to believe that one of the things that have had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing through the Covid period is the lack of meaningful contact with women. That might sound strange or even trite, but I believe it to be true. I hesitate to use the word virile because it’s not an exact fit, but it’s as close I can get to describe my outlook for most of my life.

Virile suggests that my relationship with women is purely sexual, which it isn’t. I’m no shrinking violet. I’ve enjoyed lots of sex over the years, but really, that’s just a subset of something more substantial. For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to women (and yes, some of that will be sexual and sensual). I’ve enjoyed the difference – the different way of thinking and feeling, of seeing. I’m not one of those men intimidated or dismissive of those differences – I embrace them because I learn something so often, because it stimulates my mind and senses, and because curiosity draws me on.

What that means is that I’ve had a lot of female friends, not all of whom I’ve been involved with. My life has been infinitely richer because of this. If I’m honest, I’d suggest I prefer the company of women to men generally. I’m rarely surprised by other men, though sometimes disappointed. Women make me think.

While all of that is true, I miss the incidentals – the fun, harmless little flirtations and banter. The teasing sense of wonder when you meet someone and get to know them. The curious sense of adventure and the gentle musing after the event. What does it mean? Will it? Won’t it?

There’s been zero of any of that in the last 14 months. There’s barely the opportunity for it working from home and with routines so predictable. I miss it.

I don’t know what to do about it. I resist any phone methods of meeting anyone. No internet or apps for me (been there, done it a million times). That leaves very few opportunities. I need it, though, in my soul.

My mate Fozzy reckons I’m looking good, and it’s funny to think how reassuring that is – I don’t just need an alluring woman (perhaps one like in the dream) to agree with him. Like I urge her, time to open up – time to be.

Mysterious encounters in the supermarket aisle

I reckon about four weeks ago I was bemoaning how hard it is to meet anyone new since we’ve been in lockdown. By anyone, I meant predominantly women, but I’m always happy to meet interesting characters regardless of gender, but it just wasn’t happening. “It’s not as if I’m going to run into them in the supermarket,” I said.

Then, the week before last, on Thursday, I’m in the supermarket, naturally – in the fruit and veggie department, to be specific – when going one way I encounter a woman coming the other.

Most of the shoppers are women, and there’s barely a one in years I’ve given a second glance to. This time it was different, for any one of the umpteen indefinable reasons you find yourself drawn to one person, and not another. It was not as if she was beautiful, though she was attractive. At first glance, there was nothing particularly striking or different about her. But that’s not how it works, not in my experience anyway. I’m a believer in so-called chemistry, though I think of it more as a frequency thing – you resonate at the same level. And that’s how it feels to me. The rare occasion you meet someone and experience this it feels as if you know them. They’re familiar to you, even though five minutes ago you didn’t know they existed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and gilding the lily a bit much too.

So she’s coming towards me as I’m coming towards her. I glance at her. She has dark red hair and, though she is attractive at first glance, what I really think is how interesting she looks. She’s slightly taller than the norm, slender, wearing dark yoga pants. I feel something, nothing too big or dramatic, not much more than a stirring of curiosity. Without defining it, in that split second, I think she’s my kind of woman.

Then we’re past each other – and yet, I feel as if she has noticed me much as I noticed her. I go about my shopping idly wondering at her. I’ve never seen her in the supermarket to start with. And somehow I’m reminded of Katherine Hepburn, as if this unknown lady might just be as feisty as her.

The next day I’m at the supermarket at the same time – and she is there too. How strange, I think, two days in a row! We pass by without comment, but there’s the same sense of knowingness shared between us I think – though it could equally be my wishful imagination.

The next day is Saturday. Once more, I go to the supermarket – and once more she’s there. It seems so strange that we should both visit the supermarket at the same time three days in a row when prior we’d never set eyes on each other. And then something happens which I still don’t know the meaning of.

I turn into an aisle. She’s there, alone, looking at the shelves. From the far end of the aisle, a young couple enters. They’re talking animatedly to each other. I walk towards them, towards the mystery woman, watching as she peruses the supermarket shelf. As I draw near, my eyes shift from her towards the couple, but as I do, I sense her turning in my direction. There’s a knowing smile on her face as she looks towards me as if sharing a joke only the two us know. It all happens so quickly that I don’t know if it’s real or if what I saw was as it appeared, and I don’t react. Part of it is that I’m already turning away from her, but most of it is uncertainty, and I kick myself.

The couple goes by. I go by her. Nothing is said.

I return home pondering what just happened. By now something has woken in me. It feels as if encountering this woman has brought to the surface a yearning I had long buried. It’s more general than to be focussed on her alone. It feels like truth. This is who you are, H. This is what you want and need. It’s not an easy realisation because it exposes all that I have done without. I have endured but not lived. It felt as if this what I’ve been waiting for without knowing it – and without seeking to know. To be blunt, I had deceived myself because it was easier than to face the sad reality. How many of us do that?

I’m not so caught up as to think that this mystery woman had the answers for me, but I’m also afraid that I’ve blown my chance. Three days in a row, I encountered her, and did nothing! What are the chances that I won’t see her again? High. I’d been tempting fate, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I had all the usual things run through my head at times like this. What if I’ve got it wrong? Why would she be interested in me? Don’t be silly H, it’s all your imagination.

I don’t go to the supermarket the next day, but in the afternoon I take Rigby for a walk. On this occasion, I take him up to the main road where the shops are. It’s crowded with people, and on occasion, I must manhandle Rigby to steer him clear of other dogs. As we approach the doors of the supermarket, I notice two greyhounds tied outside of it. They’re standing there, one resting his chin on the other. I point them out to Rigby. Look, two greyhounds, I tell him.

I look up just as we come to the doors of the supermarket. The doors open, and suddenly I’m gazing into the face of the red-headed woman as she exits. There’s a smile on her face again, but looking towards the greyhounds – isn’t she? Then we are past. We walk, Rigby and I, and somehow I know she is following. I’m conscious of her there. I stop to let some people through a crowded section. I murmur something to Rigby. I turn as if to look into a shop window, and from the corner of my eye, I spot her.

The congestion clears and we go on. Thirty metres on we turn off into a laneway, while she continues on straight.

I haven’t seen her since. I still don’t know what to make of it. A part of me feels embarrassed. I think I’ve imagined it all. Then I wonder why I didn’t have the gumption to do anything about it. But, by now, I have no idea what’s right.

I have a strange and irrational sense that this was a gift to me I didn’t accept. I keep thinking of the old joke about the impoverished man who prays to God each night that he might win the lottery. Finally, exasperated, God booms from the heavens, “meet me halfway, willya, buy a ticket!”

That’s me. I didn’t go halfway.

I’ll probably never see her again. That doesn’t concern me. Life is full of moments that escape from you. Now, I’m more curious about what it means for me – and what it reveals?

Sexual fragments

So, more memories, and these of a very particular nature. I can safely say these are incidents I hadn’t thought of for years or even remembered. Why they come to me now, joined, as it seems, and given they are all to do with sex, is a curious question I have no answer to.

I don’t normally write about these things. That is, I don’t usually make reference to or describe the occasions when I have sex. At most, there might be a subtle allusion, but I can’t remember a time I ever wrote in detail about these things. There are several reasons for that.

I don’t think it’s quite fair to write about sex with another person when they’re not part of the conversation. It’s a bit tacky and has a bit too much of the kind of locker room talk I hate. I’ve heard many a boast over the years – who hasn’t? – and the best thing I can say of it is the rare occasions when it’s related with wit. I can’t think of anyone much who I’ve respected who’s ever told such a tale.

The other very good reason is that so often after the fact it feels banal, even depressing. There’ve been occasions I’ve regretted sex afterwards, though not often. It’s made me uneasy sometimes, and sometimes it’s made me question the nature of desire that has us flinging ourselves at each other – or coming to a more convenient arrangement. These stories reflect that.

There was a woman, years ago, would have been in her early thirties and living around Newport. I can’t remember how we met, but I can recall one night I went to visit her at home. There was a small get together in progress, and when everyone else left, I stayed.

We had sex and slept, and had sex again upon waking. She had a cute little boy, and I remember talking to him over breakfast.

About two weeks later, she calls me on a weeknight. I’m home after a day of work and weary and, I remember, planning to have a hot bath. She asks me to come over. She wants to have sex. As I hesitate, she becomes more desperate until she’s virtually begging me to come. It’s a hard conversation, and I feel guilty as I tell her I can’t. I never see or hear from her again after that.

On another occasion, I get talking to a woman at a bar. She’s there with friends, I’m with my friends. There’s nothing special going on, but I give her my phone number.

In the week after I get a call from her with an unusual request. She wants to have sex. That’s fine, but this is purely clinical. She’s not a virgin, but she’s naïve about sex and wants to do it again to feel it. I agree – what red-blooded male is going to refuse that?

She comes by the next night. I can’t even remember if we had a drink first, or a conversation. I supposed we must have. What I remember is her lying on the end of my bed as I removed her clothes from her, until she lies there naked. We fuck. That’s the idea. I feel disconnected from it, though. It’s my body, but I’m not in it.

I reflect on it afterwards and I realise I can’t have sex so coldly. That’s one reason I’m so against fuck buddies – I don’t want to have sex by schedule or appointment. I want it spontaneous and natural. I want it to spring from inside me – if not my heart then at least my gonads. I don’t want it thrust upon me (so to speak).

I never see or hear from her again, either.

There’s another incident I remember, much of the same type. I knew but had forgotten how promiscuous I had been once. I had a lot of sex, and most of it came easily, and I was pretty direct, which worked for me at the time. I had a way with words then and an attitude which made it seem a simple thing to do. I had a very unpretentious view of sex, which has survived to this day, pretty much along the lines that if it feels good, do it. And why not? Consenting adults, and all that.

Why I remember these things now is anyone’s guess.

Outside the schema

The world has a funny way of squaring things up. Even as I wrote my post yesterday, I wondered if I was completely fair. It was true enough, but there was a touch of hubris to it. But then, within a couple of hours, that hubris was repaid when I got a message from a colleague advising that he had feelings for me. That’s right, he – a him.

Being a devout heterosexual, I barely account for the possibility of homosexual interest in me. It doesn’t fit in my schema because I can’t really conceive of, let alone imagine it. That’s despite receiving occasional, but regular, come-ons from men through the years. I reckon I’ve been propositioned maybe half a dozen times – maybe more – ranging from the forthright to the affectionate to the purely physical: an unexpected caress or pinch. Some, in hindsight, is quite amusing because of my innocent naivety. At the same time, I remember one particularly vivid invitation when I was informed that I’ve never experienced a true blow-job until it’s been performed by another man.

Yesterday I was completely blindsided. It came from a work acquaintance I had pegged as being socially awkward but well-meaning, and very likely a virgin. I’d never thought twice about his sexual preferences. Even less could I have imagined that he might be drawn to me.

I was flummoxed at first but quickly gathered myself. Ok, I said. I was conscious that he had put himself in a delicate position. Part of me wondered why he had bothered to tell me – surely he knew that I was interested only in women? But then I thought again. Life is neither as linear or as straight-forward as that. I’m sure he does know, but this is an expression of self – the truth, if you like, his truth. And so I suggested we catch up for coffee. That hasn’t happened yet.


Just before I woke this morning, I had a pleasant dream featuring an alluring woman. Though the dream was in an entirely different context, I realised as I woke that the woman in my dream was someone I used to work with. I wasn’t surprised altogether. We hadn’t been particularly close, though we flirted a few times. What she had was earthy sexuality. Dark and vivacious, she was womanly in all the best ways. She’s one of those people you just know would be into sex.

It was a pleasant enough dream, but it quickly fades. I’ve had a million saucy dreams throughout my life. It’s nice to reflect, then you get back to the real thing.

On this occasion, though, it made me think of the woman I have coffee with.

I’m none the wiser yet as to what she sees in me, though it might simply be down to my impressive good looks and charming manner. It’s not something I’ll normally dwell on, except that she seems an exception. I know the women I go for. I know the women who go for me. And while she might share some attributes with those women, she most definitely doesn’t others.

I enjoy having coffee with her and our conversations, but I’m not much drawn to her. It’s not that she’s unattractive – she’d be considered a reasonably attractive woman. It’s rather that she seems to entirely lack those elements that had me dreaming of some forgotten ex-workmate. There’s no sex vibe. To be clear, I don’t mean anything particularly raunchy by that, just that frisson will emerge between acquaintances occasionally. It’s an indefinable thing, and generally with anyone you get to know it’s there in some degree, even if only occasionally. With her, it feels absent.

I had to wonder if it might equally be me, except the feedback I get and general experience I have is that it’s quite strong in me. I’m one of those men that women know like them. I like sex. I’m always being considered a ladies man without lifting a finger to substantiate it. My appetites are undiminished, and I reckon you can always sense that vibe. And if I doubted it, then the friend I had drinks with the other week confirmed that just about word for word.

This is the thing, really. The women who like me generally sync to that, among other things. I think it’s a basic element of compatibility: you get each other on a chemical level. There’s much more to it than that, but I think that’s pretty central. I’m also a strong character, smart and confident, and that’s a type too. I’ve got a hard edge that’s hard to miss, even if I’m inherently kind and decent. The point is, I think this lady appreciates my intelligence and seemingly is fascinated by the life I’ve led, but I’d have thought those other parts of me would be more foreign to her. I mean, I can be brutal without even thinking about it, whereas she appears a softy. (I loved a softy once and admired her sensitivity and grace, but we also had a mighty vibe between us. She had IT.)

If my life attests to anything, it’s that I don’t really have much idea about women, and maybe that’s the lesson from this: desire doesn’t follow a formula. Or it may be there is no desire, and I’ve got it completely wrong. It’s not something I’ve thought about in this way until now. I’m not sure what I think. I know what I feel – not much.

I’m intrigued enough to go on. I wonder if I’ll happen across a secret that’ll make everything clear?


It seems apt to use what is an old-fashioned term when I say there’s a woman at work who is courting me. It’s not really what I’d call flirtation, though others might. Nor is it wooing (another archaic term), not in my books anyway. It’s slow and steady, a persistent and determined interest that translates into fascinated attention.

I refer to the woman who told me what an interesting CV I had, something she’s repeated about half a dozen times now, among other things.

I’m not sure how I feel about this attention. I never am. I’m a little bemused by it, wondering what the fuss is. These are intangible things, but what is it about me that triggers such interest? Surely it’s more than just a bunch of engaging work experiences? But, perhaps not – who can say? That is to say, this is entirely unexpected – which is odd because I seem to attract passing interest regularly. The difference, perhaps, is that mostly they are transient encounters, a moment or two in time. The difference is precisely in how I described it – courting, rather than chance flirtation.

There’s another aspect I often struggle with. As they say, it’s me. She’s smitten with me, it seems (another lovely phrase), but in my world, I’d generally prefer to be the smitten than the smittee*. The theory is that I can control it if the strong feeling is contained with me. That’s very often an erroneous theory, but it doesn’t stop me from sticking to it. In any case, once the boot’s on the other foot, I have very little chance of controlling it. I’m subject to the feelings of others, and that often makes me feel uncomfortable (that’s a conversation for another day).

The other thing, always relevant, is that I’m wary of becoming intimate with someone I work with.

As it happens, I like her. She’s a lovely, decent and intelligent woman. I’m briefly flattered by her interest, but that fades fast. Luckily, she’s an interesting woman with what appears to be an unusual outlook and back-story. That’s enough for me to be friendly, but no more at this point.

We had coffee yesterday. I suggested it, but only after she had reminded me a couple of times, she would be happy to have coffee with me. It seemed the polite thing to do. It was only 20 minutes, but it was fine. We’ve already got a coffee date arranged for next week. I’ll take it as it comes.

Which prompts me to reference the woman before, the woman I haven’t written of for months. I took the decision to take that offline, but in brief, I can say what had become a delicate relationship has repaired since. I discovered since there were cultural obstacles preventing anything more than that. I’m cool throughout.

*Yes, I know that’s not a real word. If you haven’t noticed already, I’m not above inventing my own words when it feels appropriate.

Bad at these things

I was sitting on the couch last night watching a movie which was just alright and my mind was drifting to the book I’m writing. I’m figuring out plot points and points of view. I’m thinking up little bits of dialogue and description and trying to assimilate it into a whole. This book has some psychological complexity and I have to work at it to get it straight, but that’s how I like it. Anyway, I’m picturing a particular scene and the reaction of one of the key characters. I’ve had to shift from the perspective of one character to the other to make it true and as it comes together I feel as if it’s honest and real and unexpectedly insightful. Okay then I think, I’ll have to write that tomorrow, and off to bed I go.

I sleep as normal until about 4am, when I emerge into a state of semi-consciousness. There are swirling fragments of thought and remote feeling in me. It’s like something stirred up in the dark of sleep slowly settles as I set my mind to it. Eventually, a picture emerges from it. At first, it’s just there, a matter of fact thing, before my wakening mind begins to pick up on it. I test it with my conscious mind, unsure as yet as to what I’m really seeing, but sensing it all the same.

Finally, it is there in me something true but hidden from me all this time. By now it is getting on towards 7am. I twist and turn. My eyes open just before 7 and I switch on the news before getting up to feed Rigby and make coffee. It’s cold and I turn on the heater, then back to bed.

I close my eyes again full of this thing trying to figure it all together. How have I not known this? I wonder. A part of me feels bitterly disappointed. I pride myself of being sensitive and observant and yet this passed me by altogether and might have forever on if not last night pondering on my book – for what I wrote in my mind I realised belatedly had parallels in my own life. What I could craft knowingly as a writer and with some psychological insight I was oblivious to as a man. Till now.

I thought back to how for weeks after it turned awkward between me and the girl at work how she would continue to greet me brightly. We would pass in the passageway or come across each other in the kitchen and each time she would acknowledge me with a smile and mostly an encouraging word. At the best of times, I’m not really that sort of person, and these were the best of times. No matter how many times she did it I seemed always surprised, and my response to her gruff and belated. Naturally, over time, she stopped, until there came a time when we wouldn’t even pass in the passageway or meet in the kitchen.

How ridiculous it seems now. Ridiculous I could be that way, and even more ridiculous that I could not see what was so clearly before me. How could I have been so blind?

As I became fully awake all of this was present and clear in my mind. I was mortified and overcome with a sense of guilt. For someone who prides himself on being trustworthy and reliable, someone who strives to be a better man, I had failed badly.

All this time I’ve been thinking meet me halfway and I understand now that she feels as if she tried and I wasn’t there.

Like I said, I’m bad at these things.

As I feel

I’ve made a point in recent months of acting as I feel. If I’m positive about something I’ll show it. If I like you, you’ll know it. If I disagree with something I won’t bother to hide it (nor will I make a big deal of it in general). It’s all about being authentic and in the moment, and one of the benefits of it is that it doesn’t play into narratives and negates play-acting. I still have my secrets, I still retain my essential privacy, but I’m sufficiently transparent to leave no-one in any doubt about it.

This philosophy has been pretty well tested in dealing with A, at work. We’ve gone backwards and forwards. There’ll be times when I’m sitting on the edge of her desk and we’re talking easily and she’s beaming. Half an hour later the shutters are down again. Spontaneous interaction works better than structured, probably because she is taken by surprise. Sometimes you would think we hardly know each other, or never exchanged a fond word, but as if to mitigate against that an email will pop up from her more playful and girlish.

I’ve felt for a long time that fundamentally she likes me, but is wary of getting close to me. Perhaps that’s because of what happened over Christmas. Maybe she has something in her past that influences her behaviour. Or – and for some reason, I am beginning to believe this – she is inexperienced at these things and conflicted (I know she’s single and sensitive about it). Or maybe I’ve just got it all wrong and she just humours me occasionally.

Whatever, I’ve responded consistently throughout much as I’ve described. Fundamentally I like her, and that doesn’t go away. Sometimes I’m more sweet on her, and at other times frustrated. I’ve not lost patience, but when I don’t feel it, or when I’ve had enough for the moment, I back off a little. There’s nothing contrived in this, I’m still friendly when I see her, I just don’t try anything or go out of my way.

Things are – in general – a lot better than they were a couple of months ago, but this cycle keeps repeating. Last week I had run out of patience and had no real desire to interact with her. I was at the stage that if she walked in the room I’d be happier walking out because I don’t want to face that conflict. That didn’t happen, but it sums up my state of mind. She picks up on such things and the routine is that she will make an effort then. I’m a little cynical of that now because I know how it turns out. Last week I wondered if finally, this was it, I’d run out of patience. So be it if so, true to my feelings.

In the meantime, I’ve continued my normal life and, as I’ve reported previously, been feeling a lot better about it. I interact with a lot of people, some I like, some I don’t, some who are men, and some women. It doesn’t mean much more often than not, but I like to flirt if I’ve got a willing flirtee. There’s one woman I’ve probably flirted with since day one, but probably more so in recent times because I’ve had a lot more to with her.

She’s a smart, attractive, stylish woman. I remember when I first met her I thought I’d like to get to know her better. Still, there’s been no meaning in my flirtation, just a bit of fun. Then last week something happened that gave me an inkling that she was getting into it more than I thought. I know at least she likes me, how much I’m not sure.

Just the possibility of something cast me back into my own thoughts. She is quite different from A. She’s the sort of woman I think a lot of my friends could imagine me with, and perhaps I would have expected myself 10-15 years ago. She would fit in well. As I thought of her my mind gravitated to A.

How is A different? They’re both attractive women, though K is an overtly stylish, fashionable woman. They’re both very smart. That means a lot to me. I suspect that A might be more interesting – and by that, I mean more generally curious, with more stories to tell. She’s a great reader too, which counts for a lot too. Still, these are superficialities. There is an intangible – there always is. In this case, I wondered if that intangible was legitimate, or if it was, in fact, a bias.

I have a thing where I try to feel the future. Now that doesn’t always work so often times I’ll just immerse myself in possibilities and see how I feel. This morning I had just about the perfect conditions to do this.

I woke reluctantly at 7 with Rigby’s tummy growling. I got up and fed him and let him out and then went back to bed. For the next hour, I drifted between a pleasantly fuzzy half sleep and something deeper. In my vague mind, I tried to focus myself on K, but there wasn’t enough there. It’s much richer with A because I know her better and we have a history. What a dreamt about where the simple things that no longer happen. Once, I remember, she was sitting in the next partition to me at work. We talk all day without any of the self-consciousness that now infects the conversation. She told me about a book she was reading. It’s crap, she told me, but she can’t help reading it (there’s a metaphor for our relationship…).

The point is I felt fond and affectionate and protective of her. I felt as if we were intertwined, as perhaps we are. It was a very pleasant hour.

There are very clear signs I can read in that, but I just don’t know how true they are. I have a habit of hoping for too long. I was halfway to letting it go as being too hard. But then you know you like her. And you think you know her in some intrinsic way – that’s the intangible. You recognise something you can’t put words to, but it’s true. I think both of us feel that.

Where that leaves me I’m unsure. I guess in the end my aim was true – be as I feel, and let’s see where my feelings lead.

Glad to care, but hurting anyway

I’m a man and too often these days we’re portrayed as insensitive and brutish. It’s true that I have a robust nature, but the waters run deep. All the same, I can’t remember when I was last left hurt by a woman. I think last night it happened.

I’ve charted the journey with the woman at work, and I now think it’s probable that at some point a few months ago she decided she won’t get fooled again, a decision which has informed our relationship ever since. In the last couple of weeks, it has warmed up some, though nothing to get excited about. There have been smiles again and shared moments, jokes and laughter.

Helping this along is the work I was asked to do to help her in an event she was planning. She is a part of the office engagement committee, and she’s very dedicated and conscientious. There are other members of the committee, but fair to say she is the driving force – it’s one of the attributes I admire her for, and which I find an instinctive allure.

She asked me to arrange some trophies for awards being given out on the night, partly because she didn’t have the time, but mostly she wanted to keep independent of the process. I was happy to take it on. I wanted to help her, plus I’m one of those people who like to see things go right. I don’t like to standby, I’d rather be hands-on doing it myself just in case.

As it turns out it was quite a demanding task coordinating between managers to find out who their winners were; with the trophy company in Brisbane organising the trophies, the inscriptions, as well as payment and shipping; and composing for each winner a summary of their achievements to go on a certificate. A lot of it was last-minute because people left it to the last moment to get back to me. In the end, it all happened as it should, in large part because the trophy company were so accommodating.

A was relieved and grateful, but I think she expected it to go well. We don’t know each other intimately, but we know key parts of the other because of our involvement, and because there is much in ourselves, we recognise in the other. I’m just as wholehearted as she is, and she knows it.

In the background, I was guiding what was to be the introduction of cocktails into the evening, which was my idea. I guess I was the technical consultant when it came to that, helping to determine the cocktails, sourcing the ingredients, the set-up, and so on. I even made a batch of sugar syrup last-minute because no-one else had.

And mid-afternoon yesterday I clocked off work to help set-up the room and get it organised with her and others.

The event kicked off. The cocktails were a hit, and there was a vibe, unlike any previous events. Come the awards ceremony I was in the background handing the trophies and certificates to the manager to present. As I knew, and she didn’t, she was one of the winners, and very worthy too.

The pressure was off, and we could relax and enjoy the night. The night went on, longer than usual. I mingled, occasionally bumping into her, but mostly not. I had offered to help with the clean-up, but as the crowd was slow to disperse began to do some in the background while they were still there – disposing of rubbish, cleaning up the cocktail table and the remnants, carting stuff up and down the stairs, doing dishes, and so on. It was exhausting work, but I was happy to do it. If you start something you finish it, that’s how I was brought up.

On one occasion, another guy came downstairs with me carrying a load. He’s only 25, a fascinating character, but with a good heart. He’s a bit of an extrovert and has taken to me. Earlier we’d had a candid conversation about his father basically being a drug addict, and I’d shared with him some of my stories. We continued the story downstairs, alone in the kitchen.

I found out he’d got in with the wrong crowd and had become a drug dealer. He was making $7,000 a week working a few hours, but then some of his friends got arrested, and he realised how it wrong it was and he got out. He told me of a harsh childhood and how he was trying to get things back on track. Weaving through this conversation was my story as he asked questions and I answered explaining how I was lucky to have good friends and how I’d survived by telling myself this is not how I want my story to end.

A couple of girls came in then, and I left to continue the clean-up. Outside the kitchen, I met the girl. She made mention – and I don’t know why – that she had been sitting at her desk the last 20 minutes. I presume she might have approached the kitchen, got wind of the conversation, and backed off. Even at her desk, on a vacant floor, it’s probable she could hear us. Maybe that’s what she was telling me.

Anyway, we finished cleaning up, and the last three of us went downstairs to the bar we go to Friday’s. Someone bought me a beer, and I stood chatting with my best mate in the place. She did the rounds thanking people and saying her goodbyes. It had been a big night, but it had gone well. Earlier she had told me she felt proud, just as she should.

Then the thing happened. Or rather it didn’t. She’s doing all this and then comes to leave. I’m standing by the door, and in fact, had been opening and closing it for people. I open it again, my arm above her head holding it open for her. She doesn’t even look at me. No goodbye, see you Monday, no thanks for your help, no nothing. Off she went.

That got to me. I wasn’t hurt then but disappointed without understanding why it felt significant. The thought crossed my mind: am I so bad? It’s not as if she could have forgotten or overlooked me – I was right there. She chose not to. But even as I wondered that I was sure it was not because I was so bad. I think fundamentally she likes me, and behaviour like that is not in her character. So what, then?

I went home with it full in me. At one moment I wondered if the problem was with me, but then there are people who sit around her who like me enough to give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and I can’t even get a handshake out of her. Above all, it felt unfair.

My dreams were all about it. I shared a house with a woman and a couple of other guys. The woman and I had a similar thing to A and I. Mostly she favoured the others. Sometimes she wouldn’t even acknowledge me. But then there would be moments of unexpected intimacy. Moments when eyes caught, a smile developed. Moments when you knew that it’s not because she doesn’t like you, so then…what?

I woke up this morning, and I was hurt. The bruise had darkened overnight, and I felt a little sorry for myself. I can live without thanks as such, it’s the lack of acknowledgement that hurt. I got profuse thanks from two of her colleagues, plus a senior manager, but this was her chance and – Butkus.

I’m weary of it right now. I want to be able to talk to her. I want her to trust me. Like I haven’t for many years, I feel hurt, but not aggrieved. I wonder if she knows what she’s done. Seems to me she either doesn’t like me or likes me an uncomfortable amount, nothing in between.

I ask myself why I care. I harbour no intimate desires for her, but I value her as a human being. I would like to be friends, and I guess it’s hard when someone you respect doesn’t return the favour. Funny, never used to worry me much before.

Unrequited possibility

I can’t control a lot of things or even many things. I know that, and I’ve known it for a long time. For the most part, there’s comfort in that. It absolves me of the need to influence things I have no say in. I can let go, relax, let fate take its course. H has no play in this game.

At other times, however, I find myself trying to interfere nonetheless in defiance of logic and rational thought, striving to do and be, to exert myself on something for which I’m unwilling to relinquish responsibility. It’s an impulse both of control and existential desperation. H must act.

It’s that too and fro that has patterned much of life, and I’m sure much of human existence. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing even if so often it is futile and exasperating. It doesn’t always feel right to sit and observe. It’s the doing that accounts, or at least the pretence of it: I tried.

I find myself facing this conundrum once again. As I described earlier, I’m sad that some of my decisions might inadvertently have caused heartache to someone else. I can’t go back and change things, though. What I can do is try and make it good now. The problem is I can get no traction. I can’t make people listen to me. I can’t make people like me again. I can only try.

I find myself fluctuating between two poles. Between acceptance: yes, it’s sad, but it’s history now and the moment has passed, and there is no more I can do. Then there is the other pole, more fundamental to me I think: it’s wrong to leave it at that without trying to make it better.

A little honesty and candid conversation would go a long away, I figure, but  I can’t get to that point. We stumble before it. It’s like a wall I can’t get by, and it gives me the shits. I want to make it clear that whatever she may have come to believe, I’m actually quite a decent bloke and have no desire to make things difficult.

For now, it’s not about what I can and can’t do. All I can be is full of grace. The future is all unrequited possibility. Anything can happen.